Auburn, Ala. (EETV) - Auburn football will officially start their SEC play Saturday on the road at Missouri.
The No. 15 Tigers of Auburn are facing Mizzou for only the third time in school history (1-1), the last meeting being in the SEC Championship in 2013.
Here are my 5 keys for Auburn to come away with their first SEC win of the season:
1) Lockdown in the Secondary
When looking at Mizzou (1-2) on paper they look to have a pretty solid offense.
Quarterback Drew Lock averages 19.3 yards per completion, which means, every pass completed is a long bomb that picks up a lot of yards.
Auburn's defense also only allows about 113 passing yards per game, which is a relatively low number, but if you are a college football fan than you already know Auburn has one of the best defenses in the country.
But when you look more closely at Lock, he only completes about 50% of his passes, which is not really a good number to have.
And on top of that, he has thrown 5 interceptions this season. That is a large number for only playing 2 games.
Live look at Mizzou football: pic.twitter.com/T1DETPDah4— Zac Lester (@holeinon3) September 16, 2017
Auburn's defense only has picked off the ball once this season. They are going to have to look to jump routes early and often when Lock is throwing to keep him in check.
The main weapon for Lock is TE Jason Reese, that is considered a threat to Auburn.
Reese creates a major mismatch in the middle of the field. He has only caught the ball 3 times this year but already has 2 TDs and 99 yards. That's a lot for a tight end.
For Auburn to stop the long passes, their secondary will need to step up.
Carlton Davis has already stepped up this season for the Tigers having 3 pass breakups, but he must lead the rest of his secondary through the game to stop passing plays.
2) Establish the Passing Game
There's no question that Auburn's run game has struggled in the beginning of the season. Against Mercer, Kamryn Pettway carried the ball 34 times for only 128 yards.
And in week 2 against Clemson, Pettway could not get the run game started, forcing Stidham to throw with almost no protection.
On top of that, Kerryon Johnson has been out since suffering a hamstring injury. Gus Malzahn made a comment this week that neither confirmed nor denied if Johson would be playing.
"I’m not going to say he’s 100 percent, but he practiced some last week, he practiced Sunday and he’s ready to play," said Malzahn. "I’m not going to predict right now.”
Mizzou allows about 271 passing yards a game and only 172 rushing yards a game.
Which means, for a team that already struggles to run the ball, Auburn will struggle just as much in week 4.
Just last week, Mizzou allowed Perdue 272 passing yards but if you look back to week 1, Missouri State threw for 353 yards against Mizzou.
That's a lot of yards in the air coming from an FCS team.
Clearly, the secondary is the weakness for Mizzou. Which is a good thing for Auburn because it seems that Jarrett Stidham has finally found his groove at quarterback.
Although he did not throw for a touchdown in week 3, he completed 86% of his passes for 364 yards.
Considering Stidham looked average at best in weeks 1 and 2, it is a good sign that he's more confident in his passing game.
Look for a crossing route by Will Hastings to be open often. Hastings has been Stidham's favorite target throughout the season, and he just finds a way to get open downfield.
For Auburn, they must look to throw the ball in order to move the chains down the field and get to the endzone.
3) Get Offensive Line Protection
Mizzou is notorious for having a strong defensive line year in and year out.
This year they bring back DE Marcell Frazier and DT Terry Beckner who were both honored with preseason SEC-honors.
On top of them, the Mizzou line also has the trio of Nate Anderson, Rashad Brandon and Walter Palmore.
The trio has combined for 4.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks this season.
Auburn's line, once thought to be the strength of the team, is now the main offensive weakness.
In week 2, the Clemson was able to sack Stidham 11 times, that's a lot. And on top of that, Mizzou averages 8 tackles for loss per game.
For Auburn to establish the passing game, Stidham will need protection from this Mizzou line to be able to at least get a chance to throw the ball.
On top of that, say the offensive line cannot block Stidham and he goes down, Auburn is looking at true freshman Malik Willis to go into the game.
JUST IN: With the arrest & likely suspension of Sean White, Auburn announced Jarrett Stidham will play the rest of the season in bubble wrap pic.twitter.com/pEXA64JQLt— Auburn Jokes® (@TheAuburnJokes) September 17, 2017
Thankfully for Auburn, against Mercer, the offensive line only allowed 1 sack and 3 tackles for loss. Comparing that to week 2, that is a major improvement.
And for Auburn to be able to come out with a win, the passing game must be established early, which in turn means that the offensive line has to be able to block and give Stidham the chance to look downfield to exploit the Mizzou secondary.
4) Get Defensive Line Pressure
Auburn has been very good all season, well in the past three games, with getting pressure in the backfield.
But that won't be so easy when you consider the offensive line they will be facing.
Mizzou's offensive line averages 6'5 326 lbs. To put that in perspective the Kansas City Chiefs OL averages 6'6 316 lbs. This basically means that Auburn will be going up and NFL sized line.
The Mizzou line has been impressive all season, only allowing .67 sacks per game and 2.7 tackles for loss. The line does not allow negative plays often and can protect Lock.
The line will be tough to break through, but Auburn has seemed to have that under control, having 27 tackles for loss this season and 10 sacks.
The one threat the Mizzou offense offers is their running back, Damarea Crockett. The offensive line has been so effective blocking for him that he averages about 7 yards per carry.
That's almost a first down every time he gets handed the ball.
To stop the run and blow up the backfield, Auburn needs to be able to get pressure from Marlon Davidson, Jeff Holland, and Derrick Brown.
The trio has been the difference maker for Auburn, combining for 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
The Auburn defensive line has to be able to break through the giant Mizzou line in order to get pressure, which in turn gives them a greater edge in winning the game.
5) Be Smart on Special Teams
Mizzou's best player is on their special teams. Punter Corey Fatony is by far one of the best punters in college football this season.
If Auburn's defense does its job to get Mizzou off the field often, Fatony will be out on the field a whole lot.
With him punting the ball, Auburn must be careful about how they play the ball in these situations.
Catony averages about 50 yards a kick and the team has a net punting average of 45.7 yards. If you don't understand these stats, that means players returning the ball barely get a chance to run with it.
If Stephen Roberts wants to attempt to run after the punt, he has to be able to hold onto the ball.
The Mizzou punting unit is so strong that if Roberts were to make a slight error than Mizzou would end up in prime field position.
Auburn special teams has to be smart in this game in order to keep the ball in their position, otherwise, they are setting their defense up to fail deep in their own end.